14 November 2017

Behind the Lens: Kickoff Week 2017 in Photographs

The Elemental Excelerator team just wrapped up a week with 48 entrepreneurs, 23 global partners, and 150+ Hawaii-based stakeholders. We put together a few notes from the week to give you a little flavor!

First, some context:

  • In the spring and summer of 2017, our Elemental Excelerator (EEx) team evaluates about 800 startups. In September, we select a group of 12 companies that become Elemental Excelerator’s next cohort. Our final 12 can be found here!
  • Each year’s cohort is split into two tracks: Demonstration (we provide up to $1 million of grant funding toward demonstration projects; entering companies are typically between Series A and C) and Go-to-market ($75,000 to grow their business in whatever way they need it most; companies usually fall between Seed and Series A).
  • The 2018 cohort is the most geographically diverse to date. 42% of the companies are headquartered internationally. This mirrors the geographic diversity of Elemental Excelerator’s Global Advisory Board. Public and private partners – in addition to the U.S. Navy – include global utilities and technology companies from Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, South Korea, Europe, New Zealand, and the U.S. mainland.
  • The cohort comes together three times over 12 months: Kickoff Week (October 2017, recap below), CEO & Leadership Summit (June 2018, joined by the entire EEx portfolio), and EEx Interactive (Fall 2018, a week of cohort activities + EEx-style Demo Day with investors and strategic partners)

Below we share a few highlights from Kickoff Week for Elemental Excelerator’s 2018 cohort. In 4.5 days we 1) immerse the new companies in our culture and ecosystem, 2) build professional and personal relationships with each other, and 3) connect them in meaningful ways with people and organizations who can help pilot their innovations and scale them x10.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 16
Welcome Dinner at Kaimana Beach Park
We joined Shifted Energy’s executive team, Forest Frizzell (CEO) and Olin Lagon (founder and CTO), at Kaimana Beach Park. Under 20-mph winds, they shared with the new cohort hailing from Australia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the mainland U.S. Hawaiian language and culture. Above, Will Dayton, CTO of Swiftly, and Val Miftakhov, CEO of eMotorWerks, pound kalo (taro) on hand-carved boards to make pa’i’ai for an appetizer before our dinner of traditional Hawaiian dishes.

Don’t underestimate culture. It matters everywhere and it matters here. Everything from meetings to marketing material to customer-facing content needs to factor in culture.” – Olin Lagon, CTO of Shifted Energy


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 17
Get to Know Each Other – and the Ecosystem
Companies spent the day digging in with their peers in a series of peer-to-peer facilitated sessions. In one workshop, Go-to-market companies were accompanied by EEx alum Brenden Millstein of Carbon Lighthouse to discuss fundraising techniques. Brenden, whose team appointed his spirit animal as a squirrel on caffeine, presented his methodical process for identifying potential investors. What were some of the key takeaways?

  • Talk to everyone. This includes college classmates, old colleagues, and anyone else within your network who could be a potential investor.
  • In the first conversation with investors, try to find a fit within ten minutes. This is not a pitch session, but a fit session.
  • Prepare questions to establish a fit, and tailor your ask based on the size of an investor’s fund. Know your pipeline and track the results of every conversation.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18
Global Advisory Board Meeting hosted by Hawaiian Electric Industries
Elemental Excelerator’s Global Advisory Board is made up of 8 international utilities and technology companies and the U.S. Navy. The heads of innovation for each of these entities gather 2x per year to provide input into the EEx selection process and take insights back to their teams.

On Wednesday, the Global Advisory Board gathered for insights into EEx’s pipeline of applicants and the new cohort, while the cohort companies were across the street in more peer-to-peer sessions. The Global Advisory Board meeting was scheduled to end at 4pm, but as the conversation started flowing we didn’t end up leaving for dinner until after 6pm.

Brian Ryan from Vector, New Zealand’s largest distributor of electricity and gas, is returning home with the following words of advice for his team: “My words of advice for my team: 1) we have to work based on principles, not policies… 2) articulate the value proposition so your grandma can understand.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19
EEx Town Square
We have to have faith to stay strong, hope to never give up, unconditional love for our work and each other.” – Mayor Bernard Carvalho of Kauai welcoming more than 150 business leaders to EEx Town Square

About a year ago, Dawn spoke at the President Obama’s Frontiers Conference. She took five minutes after Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at X, and Etosha Cave, co-founder of Opus 12 (an EEx portfolio company), to explain why innovation needs a town square. The EEx Town Square event is one manifestation of that talk, where Elemental Excelerator acted as a town square bringing together the newest cohort of innovators we fund and state and local stakeholders who will be instrumental in bringing these new technologies to market.

A few highlights from EEx Town Square

If you lose your internet you go back to 1987; if you lose electricity you go back to 1887.” – Colin Gounden, CEO of EEx portfolio company Via Science, talking about the importance of resiliency in our electrical system

We’ve been operating transit almost like we have in 1868. The horse-drawn cart left the Kamehameha statue at 7:00 in the morning and it got to Punahou School 35 minutes later. Unfortunately, it still takes us about 35 minutes to go to the same place.” – Roger Morton, President and General Manager of Oahu Transit Services (operates The Bus)

How many of you use Google Maps for transit? Would you believe me if I said it started right here (pointing to Roger, who is standing next to him on stage)? It started with an email from Roger to Google. And, they said no in the beginning, actually…. That just shows that we maybe a small place in the middle of the Pacific, but big ideas can come out of here and we’re very proud of that.” – Jon Nouchi, self-described transit nerd at the City and County of Honolulu

There’s a textile called the Kilim and it’s an imperfect art, not a loom-based art. When you turn it over it’s messy, there are strings, you can’t really discern anything about it. Some are short, some are long, they were all different colors, some have natural dies, and you’re kind of thinking – that’s a mess, if you see it upside down. One of the Berber women in the middle Atlas said, that’s actually the beauty of it. Turning it over and looking at all the difference and diversity and all of the color of it because when you turn it back, you see the weave of the threads and how they make a pattern. Then you flip it back and forth and you understand that’s how our world operates. Aloha is that essence, it’s the things that brings us all together to make such a beautiful pattern.” – our colleague Andy Karsner

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20
Karaoke (an EEx tradition)
The week ended as it always does, at a local karaoke joint, with more than 30 entrepreneurs and a handful of partners from all walks of life and all corners of the world belting Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”